On Wednesday July 23rd, Dr Harry Zervos, technology analyst with IDTechEx, interviewed Jacques Angelé, co-founder and VP Technology Programs of Nemoptic SA, an electronic paper display company. Jacques gave insight into the technology, goals and market potential for the company over the next few years.
Created in 1999, Nemoptic is headquartered near Paris and has raised more than 35 million Euros. It operates a pilot production unit in Sweden and has a large-scale production facility agreement with Seiko Instruments Inc as of April 2007. The company's technology, BiNem® (Bistable Nematic), has applications for a range of handheld devices as well as electronic shelf labels.
BiNem® technology is based on a unique principle called "surface anchoring breaking" fully patented by Nemoptic. BiNem® technology has two stable states, the Uniform (U) state and the Twisted (T) state, which are selected by applying simple pulses. Once either state is selected, it stays like it is forever without consuming any additional power. The only way to go from one state to the other is to bring energy in the form of an electrical pulse. This pulse first lifts the molecules on the surface with the weak anchoring layer up to the point where the anchoring is broken. Then, depending on the shape of the falling edge of the pulse, the molecules organize either in U or T state.
Principle of operation for Nemoptic's BiNem® technology
Competition, e-paper technologies
Jacques commented on the large visibility that E-Ink technology has received due to the number of companies that are using their technology for applications in e-book readers. According to Jacques, this is not direct competition to Nemoptic as the company is focusing on the niche market of electronic shelf labels (ESLs) and there are other serious competitors in that field: The all pervasive, simple "paper" as well as other existing electronic tags (e.g. segmented twisted nematic -TN tags) that are already very low cost. BiNem® technology displays fully graphical information while achieving competitive costs as this market and the technology is maturing. To put some numbers in the equation, Jacques stated:
"Big supermarket chains across the world can range from 100 to a few thousand stores. This would mean that we are looking at 1-10 million units of labels that need to be supplied per customer, and in these volumes, the cost of ownership of Rich Content ESLs (labels made with our displays - Rich Content ESL™ is a Trademark of Nemoptic SA) can compete successfully with lower-priced TN tags. The cost-competitiveness is due to improved labor productivity, more efficient pricing, promotional sales management, and improved customer loyalty and satisfaction".
Why can e-paper become pervasive?
Competitive stores that at times are revising their prices almost daily would gain an advantage with the use of e-paper as automation is not easy when using paper tags. Price tag changing at regular intervals is a labour intensive task and daily price update is not possible with paper. "Automation of this process also leads to better use of human resources across chain stores as wails as price agreement." says Jacques. "Price mismatch, a direct loss for retailers, can be up to 0.5% or more for large stores and if it can be avoided, that's a big saving".
These kinds of implementations can make shopping a more efficient experience for shoppers too, with e-paper being able to provide concise, up-to-date graphical information on the products on offer.
Nemoptic Rich Content ESL™ embedded in the waterproof DM106 NS label from Pricer
Along with the development of an A4 size e-paper display, Nemoptic is also researching the development of multi-colour and flexible products. "Colour displays are already available; the challenge is to achieve multi-colour displays with higher brightness so that market acceptance can become easier."
Trials are already underway for the production of multi-colour vivid tags, with deployment a bit further into the future, as issues are ironed out during trials. According to Nemoptic, flexible displays are not a high priority at the moment as flexibility of tags is not seen as an important feature for the market that the company is currently addressing. "Interest could arise out of the possibility of R2R processing and the use of additive processes" says Jacques "so we might be looking into further developing flexible tags in the future, when expanding to other markets."
Above image: A4 e-paper display. Source: Nemoptic